Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Author interview with Jan Hurst-Nicholson


Today, I am honoured to welcome a fellow South African to my blog.

Hi Jan!  Come and join us for a cup of coffee!

Little background about Jan:
Janet has lived in Durban, South Africa since arriving from England in January 1972. Trained as a bakery technologist, she worked in Research & Development at Bakers Ltd before turning to writing in 1985 when a humorous article was accepted by Femina magazine. When a second article was published by Cosmopolitan magazine she thought she was the new Erma Bombeck. Unfortunately, editors didn’t agree. After receiving a blizzard of rejections, she decided to do a writing course. This eventually led to her co-writing “Write from The beginning – all you need to know about writing the short story” which was published by The Writing School SA, which then became The Learning Group and is now part of College SA. She then went on to have short stories and articles published in various local and overseas magazines.

In 1990 she wrote her first children’s book “Leon Chameleon PI and the Janet for websiteCase of the Missing Canary Eggs” published by Gecko Books. This amusing story is set in Glenwood’s Pigeon Valley Nature Reserve, close to where Janet lives. The book encapsulates Janet’s interest in animals, humour and detective stories. Leon’s second case “The Case of the Kidnapped Mouse” followed in 1995. Leon’s third case “The Case of the Bottled Bat” is awaiting the eyes of an astute publisher.
Janet has also written “Bheki and the Magic Light” published by Penguin SA, and “Jake” published by Cambridge University Press which was also published in Zambia under the title “Baby Bupe’.

Her adult novels - a family saga titled The Breadwinners and humorous book titled But Can You Drink the Water?, are awaiting the astute eye of a publisher, as are several more children’s books. An animation company is also interested in the Leon Chameleon books.
Janet’s latest book Something to Read on the Plane is a compilation of some of her published humorous articles and short stories. The inspiration behind the book was the number of customers who came into the SPCA bookshop, where Janet works a volunteer, looking for something to read on the plane. The book has now gone into a second printing.

Janet's writing also appears in Edge Words (20 stories from the Cheshire Prize for Literature 2006) published by Chester Academic Press, University of Chester, Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul and Chicken Soup for the Soul 101 best stories On Being a Parent.
When not researching or writing her “Leon” books, Janet is required to solve the case of her husband’s missing car keys/belt/garage opener/socks… . The rest of her time is divided between opening doors for her two restless ‘SPCA Specials,’ that they always seem to be on the wrong side of; conjuring up culinary delights for three picky cats, yelling at crazed dogs to leave the ‘catsalone’; trekking back and forth to top up the seed tray for voracious wild birds; rescuing suicidal doves and gecko lizards from the jaws of overfed cats; or furtively tempting cats from the roof of a neighbour’s aviary.

In between all this she also manages to find time to write a newsletter for her neighbourhood watch; be secretary for the Durban SpeakOut club; clean, catalogue and price donated books for the SPCA bookshop; and attend SA Writers’ Circle meetings.

Goodreads blurb for THE BREADWINNERS:
When an ambitious young immigrant opens a bakery in competition with his vengeful former employer it is the beginning of a bitter rivalry that spans three generations of hatred, jealousy, passion and betrayal as the bakeries grow from small family businesses into large corporations.
It is New Year’s Eve 1924 and the fiery and volatile Charles McGill is devastated when Addy Brody, the woman he loves, announces her engagement to Lucas Connelly, his friend and co-worker. Charles drowns his sorrow in drink and seduces Hilde Richter, the unattractive daughter of a wealthy Durban businessman. When Hilde finds she is pregnant imageher father offers to set up the penniless Charles with his own bakery if he will marry her. Charles readily agrees and, unknown to Hilde, the two men draw up a contract. It is the beginning of a battle for supremacy between Charles, Lucas, and Miles Davenport, their former employer.
As the bakeries grow and prosper, acrimony begins within the families, pitting brother against brother, and Charles becomes increasingly dissatisfied, realising that success means nothing if he cannot have the woman he loves.
The story covers a period of sixty years and leads us through the fortunes, joys and sorrows, successes and failures of the three families as they survive the great depression, the war years and the isolation of South Africa.
At 118, 000 words, THE BREADWINNERS is an epic family saga that explores the adage, ‘from clogs to clogs in three generations’. It is based on the baking industry where the author worked for several years, and gives revealing insights into the growth of Durban and the baking industry. It will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction set in exotic locations, and those who read authors such as Barbara Taylor Bradford, Catherine Gaskin and Belva Plain.

And now over to Jan :) 

Tell us, Jan, when did you start writing?
I always wanted to write, and my first story in print was in the school magazine (sadly lost in an over-zealous clear out), but I knew nothing about plot development, characterisation and the actual craft of writing. I thought novelists were all very clever people with university degrees in writing, and it never occurred to me that I could actually become a writer, so I didn’t pursue it.  But about 30 yrs ago I submitted a humorous article to a magazine. It was single-spaced, no margins, no headers, no author name – very much beginner writer. I was thrilled when the magazine said they were going to publish it – and pay me. I was then hooked on writing and sent my next article to Cosmopolitan. It too, was accepted, but unfortunately a spate of rejections soon followed, so I took a writing course, joined a writers’ circle and bought lots of books and magazines on writing. Slowly I began to sell articles, short stories, and the occasional poem. I then tackled a couple of novels (using two very different writing styles). Although one of them was runner-up in a novel competition I couldn’t find a publisher.  I then tried my hand at children’s books and found success with Penguin, Cambridge University Press, and Gecko Books. The internet opened up a whole new world of publishing possibilities, so that is when I resurrected my novels and published them as digital books on Amazon’s KDP.

How long does it usually take you to write a book?
It took about 18 months to write The Breadwinners as I had to do a lot of research and many re-writes.  My children’s books also take much research, but because they are shorter (but not easier) it would probably be about eight months. But I like to do a lot of editing and re-writing.

What inspired you to write this book?
When I arrived in South Africa I worked in the Research and Development Department of a large bakery. It was managed by the sons of its founder and had grown from a small family bakery into a factory operation. There were two other rival bakeries, also run by the sons of the founders. When I left my job several years later, the three bakeries had amalgamated. This one large bakery was finally taken over by a big corporation. Somebody remarked, “Clogs to clogs in three generations” and this set me thinking how family dynasties grow and then crumble, and why it happens (the underlying theme of the story). I was fortunate that all three families willingly assisted me with background information on the growth of the baking industry in Durban, and could remember the days when bread was delivered by horse and cart.

What kind of research did you have to do?
The Breadwinners was written in the 1980s (pre Google) so I visited museums and trawled through the library and even interviewed my old boss, who was most helpful and eager to be of assistance in getting the background of the bakeries correct. I used a wonderful book Dear Old Durban by Yvonne Miller and Barbara Stone for much of the background information on what life was like in Durban during the early 1900s. I also had to make sure that I had the small details correct, such as flowers blooming in the correct season. It just takes one small mistake for a reader to become disillusioned with the story.

Who designed cover?
The basic idea was my own, and I’ve recently had it updated by Dafeenah from indiedesignz.com

Who is your favourite character in The Breadwinners?I’m rather fond of Charles, who is the unfortunate architect of his own destiny. But I enjoyed exploring Hilde’s emotions as she gradually becomes more and more embittered. I should confess that I quite fancied Connor, and I also took the opportunity to name one of the least likeable characters after a girl who was mean to me in college (better not give the name).

Do you write in any other genres?
I started out writing articles, humorous articles and short stories before tackling The Breadwinners. My next project was But Can You Drink The Water? a humorous novel that began as a sitcom. I then started writing children’s books and my first book Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the missing canary eggs was published by Gecko Books. This was followed by Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the kidnapped mouse. These are humorous, animal detective stories for 7 – 12 year olds. Penguin published Bheki and the Magic Light, and Jake was published by Cambridge University Press. My YA novel Mystery at Ocean Drive, a Hardy Boys-type action adventure story, was a runner-up in the 2010 Citizen/Pan MacMillan YA novel competition. I also put together a collection of my humorous articles and short stories, added some more fun stuff and self-published it under the title Something to Read on the Plane. This is selling well at local airports and as a Kindle on Amazon.

What is your next project?I’ve got a few more Leon Chameleon PI stories drafted, but I’m waiting to see how the first two sell before approaching the illustrator to do the illustrations. I’ve also written Thembu Takes a Tumble, a picture book for small children. This was initially accepted by a publisher but was then culled with a number of other books.  I have written The Race about a left-handed child , which will help parents and teachers understand the problems that left-handed children encounter. I just haven’t got round to getting it illustrated.

What is the hardest thing about being an author?That’s easy – finding a publisher!!  (lol)

Do you hear from your readers much?  What do they say?I received some lovely letters from children after their teacher read them Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the missing canary eggs. It was a class project to write me a letter explaining which characters they liked and why – and very revealing it was! I’ve also heard from a few readers via my website and they usually mention that they connected with the characters.

Oh wow, those letters must have a special place in your heart!  How sweet.  

Who are some of the authors that inspire you?
Monica Dickens has been the biggest influence on my writing ‘voice’.  A writing friend once advised that if I wanted to learn about characterisation I should read Monica Dickens. I read ‘The Fancy’ and was hooked on her books. Deric Longden is also a favourite, (especially his book ‘The Cat Who Came in From the Cold’ ), as are Erma Bombeck and Hunter Davies for their humour.

What is in your own TBR pile?
I act as a depository for people who donate books to the SPCA bookshop, so I always have a box of books to browse through and this often introduces me to books that I wouldn’t normally choose. I’ve been reading a number of detective novels recently and have enjoyed Sue Grafton, but my preferred fiction reading is family sagas or humour.  I have a varied selection of non-fiction, from biographies, health books. Chicken Soup for the Soul, and I’m presently reading It’s the Thought that Counts by Dr David R Hamilton.

Thank you so much for coming in for coffee and a chat today, Jan.  We loved having you!  We wish you lots of success for the future!

Links to all of Jan’s books can be found here:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for saying hello.